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Kailash Satyarthi turns 63: A look at the Nobel laureate’s career so far

Nobel Laureate Kailash Satyarthi, who turned 63 today, has in his career spanning 36 years, worked to free over 85,000 children from bonded labour. Two years back, it was while he was sitting in his office in Delhi that he found out on Twitter that he had won the Nobel prize for peace. Leading national dailies then described him as “little known”, however his fight to free children from slavery had begun several decades earlier.

He had made up his mind to work for this cause as a child

Satyarthi says that he made up his mind to work for the cause of child labour when he was six and saw a boy of his age cleaning shoes with his father on the steps of his school. At the age of 11, he, along with his friends, collected books from his neighbourhood to give to children who needed them.

He took up the name Satyarthi

He was born Kailash Sharma and gave up his surname when he was 15, following an event that had left a deep impact on him. He was witness to an ocassion where ‘upper caste’ political leaders had been invited to a dinner but did not show up because the food had been cooked by ‘lower caste’ people. After this he went on to take the surname Satyarthi which means ‘seeker of truth’. Satyarthi is also a follower of Mahatma Gandhi’s ideals.

He gave up a career in engineering

Born in 1954 in Vidisha in Madhya Pradesh, Satyarthi completed a degree in engineering from Samrat Ashok Technological Insitute there. He then joined as a lecturer in a college in Bhopal which he gave up in a few years and became secretary general for the Bonded Labour Liberation Front. He also founded the Bachpan Bachao Andolan the same year.

Bachpan Bachao Andolan

Started in 1980 by Satyarthi, with the aim of ending child labour, human trafficking, demanding the right to education for all children and ending bonded labour, this movement claims to have freed over 80,000 children and ensure their rehabilitation.

He has worked with Guardian Films

Satyarthi has worked with Guardian Films on a documentary about slavery in Assam. Speaking about his work to The Guardian, the Nobel laureate had said “It is a challenge definitely and I know that it is a long battle to fight, but slavery is unacceptable, it is a crime against humanity. I’m not talking in legal terms, morally I feel I cannot tolerate the loss of freedom of any single child in my own country so I am a kind of restless person in that sense. We cannot accept this to happen.” The documentary was about a raid that he led to rescue a girl who had been trafficked from a tea estate in Assam and brought to Delhi.

Global March movement against child labour

Satyarthi began the Global March movement with a 80,000 km march with thousands of people who marched together against child labour. The march, which started on January 17, 1998, covered 103 countries and spread awareness as over 7 million people came out in support and participated to show their solidarity. A number of world leaders showed their support for the cause as well. This movement led finally to Geneva on June 1 the same year where the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Conference was in session. Their voice was heard and reflected in ILO Convention 182 on the worst forms of child labour, which was adopted at the same conference.

He started GoodWeave to fight child labour in the rug industry

GoodWeave India, which began as RugMark, is now a global organisation working in Europe and North America, other than India, Nepal and Afghanistan in the sub continent. It works to protect workers in factories producing rugs across countries. The organisation goes to factories to identify cases of child labour and helping to rehabilitate these children and provide them an education.

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